When things take a turn for the worse, and you need to bug out, a knife can be an extremely useful tool to have. And the Benchmade Bugout is a fitting knife for that role. Extremely lightweight, deep carry in the pocket, and a fantastic blade make for a knife that truly fits its name. It may not fit the hand in the fulfilling way that a fixed blade can, but it’s comfortable enough for most quick tasks that a pocket knife may require.
Osborne 940, but with a different philosophy of use in mind. The thinly ground blade, small deep carry clip, and an overall slim profile come together to provide a knife that virtually disappears in the pocket, but can be called upon to prove it’s worth in executing any run of the mill pocket EDC task. It’s a true lightweight, heavy hitter, as capable as can be, and full of modern production elements, to bring you a knife you can count on when you need it.
Key Specs: Benchmade Bugout
The blade on the Bugout is, indefinitely, the knife’s reason for fame. In 2017, Benchmade somewhat quietly released the Bugout and it was a hit from day one. With a stock thickness of just 0.09”, and a length of 3.24”, the blade on the Bugout is well suited for cutting tasks galore. And it looks good while doing it, too.
It’s a fairly boring, neutral blade shape, officially titled a drop point, with a nice swedge along the spine near the tip. This swedge allows the Bugout to easily penetrate cardboard or any other cutting medium with minimal effort. The edge of the blade starts with a nice, flat portion, with a gradual sweep to meet the tip in a position that’s just slightly higher than the center line of the knife. Benchmade, like many other brands, usually etches their butterfly insignia on the blade along with the company’s name, and the Bugout is no exception. On the opposite side of the blade, there is a simple text reading S30V, of course indicating the blade’s steel composition. Yes, another “boring” S30V knife.
But S30V is a steel that’s often looked down upon, for one reason alone – newer and more premium steels, leaving the tried and true formula of S30V to fend for itself in a world of “bigger, better, faster, stronger”. But why? S30V is still a very capable steel in today’s market. It’s fairly well rounded, with great corrosion resistance, good edge retention, toughness that’s suited for daily use, and can be sharpened fairly easily.
With those four aspects of steel composition covered in a well-balanced manner, do we really need to have a more premium steel on every production knife out there? Definitely not. I truly believe steel composition is something that matters on a knife. I’m a huge fan of K390, with edge strength and edge retention sky high on the scale. S90V is a great stainless steel, that can hold an edge maybe three times the length of S30V. CPM Cru-Wear is a steel that can take a serious beating, and not chip out or break in half.
But really, if we’re honest with ourselves, how much do we really use our pocket knives? Some of us more than others, that’s for sure, and for those of us who cut tons of cardboard on a daily basis, rely on our pocket knife to make dinner every night, or want to baton wood into small, processed pieces, then yes, those people may need a more premium steel like Maxamet or 3V. But for a knife that’s going to cut up an apple, open a package here and there, cut a piece of rope or lanyard from time to time, S30V is more than capable, and can be sharpened back to a shaving-sharp level fairly quick. And if it’s even moderately taken care of, it won’t rust, and can take a little light abuse once in a while.
The Bugout’s blade is also lacking something that most blades have today – jimping. And I don’t care; I actually prefer it this way, on this particular knife. Jimping can be useful and even comfortable, proven in something like a Chris Reeve Sebenza, but on light, fast EDC folder, a smooth spine is A-OK with me. Plus, it’s one less thing to rip apart the pocket on your pants or shorts.
Deployment and Lockup
As with almost every folder that Benchmade has made in the last couple decades, the Bugout does not have a true detent to keep the blade closed. Instead, it relies on their proprietary Axis lock. This locking system is widely accepted with most knife users, but it does carry some drawbacks as well. Two omega shaped springs hold the Axis lock bar against the blade when it’s closed, and they also hold the lock bar up when the knife is open. In theory, and in use, it’s generally a great way to keep a knife blade closed, and then locked open, but the springs on Axis locks do have a reputation to break suddenly. And if one or both of them do break, the lock is typically rendered useless.
Yes, the knife can still cut if you hold the blade open manually, but this is a technicality that I don’t want to argue. If the lock on my folding knife is broken, the knife is effectively broken. And this is the one and only drawback of the Axis lock.
Aside from the springs, the Axis lock is a well executed design, covering it’s bases on ambidexterity and ease of use. The knife can be deployed by means of pulling down on the Axis lock and flipping the blade open, and it can be swung open or closed without endangering any flesh in the process. And that’s a great thing. There are lots of frame locks and liner locks out there, and they all require a thumb to directly enter the path of the closing blade to unlock the knife, but the Axis lock strays from that anomaly. It’s a relatively strong lock, too. A titanium bar held against the steel liners, pinched between the blade and handle make for a lock that can be trusted. So long as those pesky springs stay put.
The standard method of thumb stud deployment works great too, as the Bugout touts a very comfortable anodized aluminum stud on either side of the blade. Back to comparing a $120 knife to the $450 Sebenza, the CRK standard could use a refresh to the uncomfortable, pointy blue thumb stud that’s been used for literally decades, but looking at something like the Bugout. The size of the thumb stud found on this lightweight, speedy little folder, is just right. And it’s almost completely out of the cutting path, so it almost never gets in the way with normal use.
Features, Fit and Finish
The Bugout is finished like a toy out of the bargain bin at a department store that’s about to go out of business. At least in the handle. The inner portion of the semi-linerless is sharp to the touch, and needs to be sanded down. The Axis lock is known to come from the factory with a level of grittiness akin to a beach day in swimming trunks.
The action comes out of the box fairly tight, but that tends to work itself out after some fidgeting and flicking your new-fangled box cutter, thanks to the knife’s phosphor bronze washers. Fitment of parts and screws seems good to go, but Benchmade has grown to have a reputation of questionable quality control, often leading to off-center blades and a sharpening job that may not be even on both sides of the blade. These little nuances are typically overlooked by the average user, and don’t tend to really affect any normal usage. But, we’re looking at paying $120-$145 for a plastic handle with an S30V blade. Nitpicks must be pointed out in this price range, especially with a big-named knife manufacturer like Benchmade.
But not all hope is lost on the Bugout’s overall fit and finish. The nested partial liner holds the Axis lock rigid and solid in use, and can be overlooked when picking up a 1.8oz pocket knife. Any knife under 2oz is going to have to cut weight somewhere, and Benchmade took the ounces out of the right places. The blade is still thick enough to be pushed into medium cutting tasks, and the lock mechanism is encased in steel to ensure the Grivory handle doesn’t blow out if the knife is used hard.
The handle is constructed with two lower standoffs, ensuring the scales don’t snap when the knife is gripped tightly. The ultra thin Grivory scales will flex if they’re tested, by pinching the scales together, but in normal use, that fact just doesn’t really matter. Hell, you could even run over the bugout with a car, pry open a paint can, unscrew a Phillips head screw, and jump on it, and it’ll hold up just fine.
The Bugout performed admirably in use. My 3 par test of apple slicing, wood shaving, and cardboard cutting was a breeze. Slicing an apple is a great test of a blade’s overall geometry. Sure, an axe can cut an apple, too. But if the cuts are left without any cracks in the slices, and the cuts are made without and binding against the apple, it generally is much more pleasurable to use than a cleaver (or a Hinderer XM-18. Sorry, Rick). And, the Bugout can push-cut apple slices like a kitchen knife, leaving the apple slices unscathed, and doesn’t bind up while cutting.
Diving in to the cardboard, the Bugout continues to prove it’s worth. The blade nearly effortlessly zips through the material, without a lot of fuss. The handle scales’ inner edges being left a little unfinished at the factory does come into play here a little bit, with a feeling of slight discomfort to the palm and fingers squeezing those areas. But, the cardboard was cut well, even when double walled, thanks to the stonewashed finish of the blade, the thin grind, and modest blade stock thickness. And the flat grind tends to get out of it’s own way when cutting cardboard; a feature not found on all pocket knives available today.
Shaving a pine 2×4 with a 1.8oz pocket knife may sound a little excessive, but its no big deal with the Bugout. The ergonomics of the knife are loudly represented when pushing and twisting a knife to cut notches and shave pieces of wood, and this little knife feels somewhat decent in this regard. It’s no Spyderco Shaman, or Benchmade Bushcrafter, but it’ll do, if it’s what you have when you need it most. A hollow ground blade definitely performs better in this test, but the flat grind on the Bugout holds its own in this reviewer’s eyes.
Sharpening the Bugout was easy. I’m a KME user lately, so some may call it cheating, but when you get into the 66-67 HRC range of some modern knives, it’s nice to have a guided system take care of the angles for you, while you knock off the dull steel from your folder. S30V isn’t the hardest steel out there, with a Rockwell rating of 58-60 HRC according to Benchmade, but it formed a burr quickly, and polished up the edge with some diamond spray on balsa wood in a measly 20 minutes. This steel holds up well, sharpens fairly easily, and doesn’t patina the way a lot of more premium steels do. And for a daily user folding knife, that’s a great thing.
All knives below available at BladeHQ.
The bugout almost stands in a class of its own, with a blade over 3”, yet a package under 2oz. But, there are some other offerings that compare similarly enough to consider. The most closely related knife to the Bugout is another knife made by Benchmade, the Bailout. Offered only with a tanto blade shape, the Bailout also utilizes Benchmade’s grivory handle scale material, a partial liner in the handle, and a light weight knife, at only 2.05oz. It has an integrated pommel on the back of the handle, and the blade steel is comprised of CPM 3V (an extremely tough, yet low wear resistant steel).
There has been a huge discrepancy in HRC with the Bailout; there is a group of online knife reviewers who have had the Bailout tested for hardness, and apparently the results were far lower than what Benchmade had advertised. Benchmade was contacted many times, never responded, then removed the HRC listing for the Bailout altogether on their website. Then, Benchmade quietly released their upgraded version of the Bailout, the 537sgy-1, with CPM M4 steel, and an aluminum handle. It’s price is a little tougher to swallow, at $250, but I’ll admit that M4 on a lightweight knife is appealing. This variant is a little heavier than the other 2, weighing in at 2.7 ounces, thanks to its aluminum handle scales.
The Mini Bugout just hit retailer’s shelves recently, and as one would imagine, it’s a slightly smaller version of the standard Bugout. It’s a scaled down version of the full sized Bugout, with a 2.82” blade, and an overall length of 6.49”. This knife is significant in one particular regard; it’s blade is under 3”. That is a blade length that falls under the legal limit in many jurisdictions. At Blade Show 2020, BladeHQ’s team also mentioned in their original showing of the mini bugout that it’s size also allows it to be added to an Altoid tin survival kit, a popular method of minimalist prepping.
Spyderco answered the Bugout with their Para 3 Lightweight in 2019. It won “Most Innovative American Design at this convention, and has gained many users since then. It’s 3” blade is comprised of CTS-BD1N steel, utilizes Spyderco’s compression lock, and has a weight of just 2.4oz. Spyderco changed the liner system on the Para 3 lightweight, using only a single liner on the locking side, but FRN (fiberglass reinforced nylon, AKA fancy plastic) on the other.
It also uses their beloved deep carry wire clip, and it slides in and out of the pocket with ease. It’s cutting edge is reduced a bit, what with the forward choil, leaving the knife with a sharpened edge of only about 2.5”, about .5” less than the Bugouts cutting edge. And, Spyderco managed to sell the Para 3 lightweight for only $98, keeping it on the sub-$100 price point. The Bugout’s two main variants, the blue handle with the satin blade, and the 535GRY-1, are priced between $127-144. That’s a significant price difference, for a knife that checks a lot of the same boxes. And, Spyderco’s offering doesn’t have springs in its locking mechanism, lending it to potentially being more reliable in a long term use standing.
The Benchmade Bugout is, without a doubt, an excellent EDC knife. It’s reliable, extremely lightweight, packs a punch with its perfectly executed blade, and carries invisibly in the pocket. It may not be the most hand filling knife out there, and sure, there’s a little flex to the handle if you’re trying to find something to complain about, but that’s mostly trivial. This is unquestionably one of the best choices available for an EDC knife. It’s lightweight, slim design, and has a huge aftermarket customization product line for those who want to make it their own.
It may be on the pricey side for a 3.25” plastic handled knife, but it can hold its own in any real world usage. Benchmade’s warranty is unrivaled, offering their Lifesharp service for any knife, including cleaning, tuning, sharpening, part replacements, and even a complete blade replacement for a small fee. Not even Spyderco will replace a blade for you, so Benchmade stands alone in their warranty department. Their pricing may be just on the high side of what’s considered affordable, but the warranty somewhat justifies that sharper pricing. It’s a great knife that can be used hard, carried easily, and is backed by its manufacturer with confidence. This is a true EDC all star, and we don’t think it’ll be easily dethroned for some time.
- Lightweight, practical blade, decent spec, solid warranty
- A little pricey, handle may appear cheap to some